Could autonomous vehicles usher in new ways to buy stuff?

It’s increasingly clear that one of the main repercussions of autonomous driving, beyond issues such as transportation structures or the transition of the car from product to service, will be the appearance of new business models based on distribution.

The vehicle in the illustration is a Nuro, created by two former Google engineers for last mile delivery, and that has plenty of competitors: Amazon, Udelv, Ford, Starship, Robomart, Boxbot, Eliport, ZF or, among others, have all developed prototypes of varying degrees of development in an ongoing race of investments and alliances. A recent McKinsey report says that by 2025, around 85% of last mile shipments will be carried out by autonomous vehicles, making such vehicles ubiquitous on our streets.

But beyond distribution, which is simply automated by means of an autonomous vehicle and a compartment accessible through a code, a task previously carried out by a human, there are more innovative approaches in line with a future in which traditional retail cannot compete and needs new ideas. Trends in the United States, where more and more stores are closing every year, point to mixed formulas with a strong online presence, alongside mechanisms such as pop-up stores to offer a tangible product experience.

Possibilities such as using self-driving vehicles for showrooming — whereby consumers examine products at home before deciding to acquire them — could be an interesting alternative for many brands. As seen in an episode of Black Mirror, autonomous vehicles could also be used to cook or keep fast food hot en route to a delivery, providing customers with a freshly cooked product. This is not necessarily the stuff of science fiction: anyone who has lived in a small village, as I have, will have bought bread, fish, fruit and veg and other products from mobile shops. Could we see a model whereby autonomous vehicles are used to display the product, which consumers can then buy? We could be talking about a distribution model in the future focused not so much on the traditional retail store, but instead on autonomous vehicles traveling to our homes, a future that looks beyond the applications usually conceived for these types of vehicles, along with the development of an ecosystem with many potential players.

(En español, aquí)